One of the last few pieces of the Kenmore refurnishing puzzle finally arrived last week – the Drawing Room carpet! Much like the carpet effort in the Dining room, this was a lengthy project, taking almost a year from start to finish. Unlike the Dining Room project, we didn’t have any physical clues to help us determine what the Lewis-era carpet looked like. This time, we were definitely making an educated guess.
So, how did we end up with this magnificent carpet in Kenmore’s Drawing Room? We started with a lot of research. From our work in the Dining Room, we already knew that Kenmore was somewhat unusual for its time, in that it had any carpeting at all. Floorcoverings of any variety were rare in 18th century colonial American homes, with floorcloths and hand woven mats being the most likely types found. Actual woven carpeting, which had to be imported from England, was highly unusual, even in the wealthiest households. You may recall, that Fielding Lewis’s probate inventory doesn’t mention a carpet in the Dining Room, and so we were very surprised to find the physical remnants of it during our restoration. In the Drawing Room, we had the exact opposite situation. The Drawing Room is the only room in the house to be listed as having a floorcovering in the probate inventory – a carpet that was apparently significantly old and worn by the time the inventory was done, judging on the value of it. During Kenmore’s restoration, the original floorboards still remaining in the Drawing Room were carefully examined for carpet tacks or holes left by tacks, but no such evidence was found. So, we had a document telling us that a carpet was there, but no physical evidence to support it. In the end, we came to the conclusion that the probate inventory was probably correct, that due to the extremely high-style decoration of the room, it was likely that Fielding Lewis intended to put a fine carpet in the room. We resolved the lack of tack marks by determining that the carpet was probably what we would call an “area rug” instead of wall-to-wall, or “fitted” in the 18th century parlance, and may never have been tacked down at all.
Our next step was to determine a pattern for the carpet. Once again, we did not have the physical evidence available to us during the Dining Room project. In that situation, original carpet fibers were found, still attached to the carpet tacks remaining in the floor. Those carpet fibers had been dyed a specific color of red, which opened the door for us to find a period pattern that included that color. Without such evidence in the Drawing room, the world of 18th century carpet patterns was wide open. We decided to narrow down the possibilities by looking for patterns that reflected at least some of the elements of the room’s elaborate plasterwork ceiling. In great English houses of the 18th century, which Fielding Lewis was clearly trying to emulate at Kenmore, ceiling decoration and floorcoverings were often intentionally matched. The Drawing Room’s ceiling is composed of natural and floral decorations, including cartouches representing the four seasons in each of the corners. It seemed likely that the room would have had a very floral patterned carpet. Additionally, the Drawing Room is known for its rather stunning color scheme – emerald green flocked wallpaper with a vibrant blue-turquoise paint on the woodwork. As these colors are very bold, we decided to stay within that palette for the carpet. After combing the original 18th century catalogs at the Grosvenor Wilton archives in England, we finally found a pattern that fit the bill. Unlike the Dining Room carpet pattern, it does not have a specific name, but it dates to approximately the same time period (ca. 1790). It is comprised of large floral medallions, interspersed with floral cartouches, all in shades of green, blue and cream.
Lastly, we decided to have the carpet made in a slightly different weave than the one in the Dining Room. The Drawing Room carpet is done in Wilton weave, rather than Brussels. The main difference between the two is that each yarn in the Brussels weave is a loop, so that when you look down at the carpet you are seeing the uncut, looped edge of the yarns. In the Wilton weave, each of those loops of yarn are cut, so that when you look down at it you see the fuzzy cut edge of the yarns. Overall, the Wilton weave gives the carpet a more plush, soft feel too it. To our eyes today, this difference in weave may not seem significant. In the 18th century, however, the extra step required in the production of a Wilton carpet – the cutting of each loop of yarn – would have made the carpet a more expensive, and therefore more luxurious, option. Because our research shows that the Lewises intended their Drawing Room to be the more opulent entertaining space in Kenmore, it was decided that a Wilton carpet would be appropriate for the room.
In the end, Kenmore’s Drawing Room is another step closer to what it would have looked like when Fielding and Betty Lewis lived at Kenmore!
To see a video of Drawing Room carpet being installed, visit the Foundation’s other blog, Lives & Legacies!